A marketer's guide to engaging the tablet user

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We are in the midst of a tablet revolution, with both consumers and enterprises embracing tablet computers for everything from internet browsing and social networking to mission critical business applications that increase employee productivity and drive revenue. Forrester Research predicts that, beginning in 2012, tablet sales will start to outpace notebooks. This widespread adoption can be unequivocally credited to Apple's introduction of the iPad in 2010, but the upcoming launch of Amazon's tablet Kindle Fire is set to expand the market even further, attracting more users with its lower price point. 

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It's clear that marketers today cannot ignore the tablet as a channel. However, tablets have added another layer of complexity onto the diverse mobile internet arena, which is already crowded with a rich variety of web-enabled mobile devices from various manufacturers running different operating systems. With new versions of smartphones and tablets being brought to market every day to capitalize on this global trend, the mobile device landscape is becoming even more complex and confusing for brands and consumers alike.

This article will help marketers better understand what makes a tablet different from other mobile devices and PCs, as well as how to leverage the tablet as a critical piece of their mobile web content development strategy. Readers will also learn best practices for building an optimized, engaging web presence on tablet PCs.

A unique niche

So where does the tablet fit in? Somewhere between a smartphone and a PC -- clearly in its own unique niche, but one that is still very new to consumers and businesses alike. Tablets are almost as portable as smartphones, yet they have much larger screens and can provide more immersive experiences. However, they lack a mouse and external keyboard and typically have tinier screens than even the smallest laptop. From a user experience perspective, a website that sings on a small smartphone screen will be too simple for a tablet, but a website designed for a larger PC screen and a mouse-driven pointer will likely be too detailed for the tablet user, who will have trouble "clicking" on small links with their fingers. 

Hone in on user behavior

Web content strategy for a tablet goes well beyond aligning with device form factor, however; another key factor to take into account is consumer behavior -- what type of content people consume on tablets, how they interact with it and where. From there, you need to adjust your experience to meet the user's expectations for the channel. Based on the device's size, portability and functionality, people tend not to use the tablet for serious work, but they expect significantly more from it than their smartphone. Several recent studies have examined consumer tablet usage trends, and all have cited email, social networking, games, search, news consumption and shopping as top usages. A Pew internet study puts email and news at the top of that list.

People are also giving tablets a lot of their time. According to a recent Google survey, 43 percent of respondents spend more time with their tablet than with their desktop or laptop. Because people use tablets to access leisure-based content such as movies and books, they tend to spend a longer time on them than smartphones, with most survey respondents using tablets for at least an hour or two per day. Furthermore, while it's an app world for the smartphone, the browser gets substantially more face time on the tablet.